A couple of weeks ago I was disappointed because I wasn’t disappointed.
I was at a a bar in the West Village for an open mike and ran into someone I knew from college. Usually in New York, when I think I see someone I knew in college, it turns out to just be some OTHER Asian person, but this time it was unmistakable. He came up to me and said hi, and we started catching up, and it was literally the nightmare scenario I dread every time I see someone from Dartmouth: he’s living comfortably working for some investment bank in NYC, and I had to try and not directly admit to him that, despite a diploma from the same school, comedy was the thing I was doing with myself, while I was putting myself deeper in debt and living in a cheap place in the Bronx. He wasn’t trying to rub it in my face in any way, but the difference in our situation was apparent, and I started flashing back to all the conversations in frat basements where drunken idiots were talking about the internships they were getting at Goldman Sachs where as I couldn’t get an internship at MAD Magazine, and I felt my teeth clench.
But then it got worse:
Him: “Are you doing the open mike here?”
Him: “I think I’m going to sign up, too.”
Now I started to feel like I was being attacked. I saw it as some guy who was already doing better than me going “Guess what? That thing you do? The thing you use to define who you are as a human being? I can do THAT better than you, too!” like he was purposefully out to embarrass me.
Here’s my thing: I just assume that all of my non-comic friends don’t really respect stand-up comedy as a craft, because the way they talk about it shows they don’t think of it as something that takes talent and effort.
Case in point: last year, during my grad program’s winter intensive, after a late class a few classmates and I went to a bar nearby. By coincidence, it happened to be a bar where there was a comedy open mike that night. I decided to sign up so I could entertain my friends while they enjoyed their drinks. However, one of my classmates (I can’t remember if he had been drinking yet) decided to sign up as well. He had no previous experience as a stand-up, and had written no material.
Now, part of me wanted to look out for my friend and warn him against doing so, for his sake. However, the more sadistic part of me won out, and let him go up, knowing the shit-storm of embarrassment about to follow, only exacerbated by the fact that he and my other classmates had gotten so drunk and noisy that the other comics HATED them. I knew he was going to crash and burn like the Space Shuttle Columbia, but I didn’t want to be right there and laugh at how bad he was failing right in his face, so I hid in the bathroom and listened to him twist in the wind for five minutes to complete silence and heckles from the other comics.
And I got a real sense of sick satisfaction from it. I was glad it happened, because he needed that lesson, and I still wish that lesson could be given to everyone who thinks that what a comic does is just go up and talk off the top of their head and that absolutely anybody who’s ever said a funny thing could go up on stage and be funny for five minutes. Everyone should have it driven home into their head that no, it’s not true, as hard as it was driven home to my classmate that night. I probably should have been ashamed of how vindicated I felt.
But then later, when I talked to one of my other classmates who was there, and tried to explain why the other comics got mad, her response was that they weren’t being funny, and when I explained to her that they were working on material that may not be funny yet, she said “yeah, so fuck them.” So, I was right to feel vindicated, because some people still hadn’t learned their lesson.
Flash forward to the open mike with the college friend, and I thought it was going to be that scenario all over again. To me, it was some bro who thought he was so naturally funny he could just go up there and talk and be a comedian, and I was going to have the last laugh because he was going to bomb miserably and have his confidence broken, and I was going to get a hate boner from it.
So I go up, do my set to reasonable laughs, and hang out in the back waiting for him to go up, a smug shit-eating grin on my face. But then he goes up and… He has material. He actually attempted to write jokes. It was his first time on stage, but he actually came prepared! They were the jokes of a green comic, but honestly, they weren’t bad. He didn’t hump the stool or try to say “rape” for shock laughs. I was prepared for this guy to shit all over the room because he thought he was better than us, but he actually approached it with the humility, respect and effort that a comedy open mike deserves.
And honestly, I felt disappointed! I was so ready to just hate this guy and feel like I’d gained the greater existential victory and just marinate in my own smug self-importance because the finance guy couldn’t be as good of a comedian as me, but I was denied. I mean, he DIDN’T do better than me, but I just couldn’t find any reason to belittle or begrudge him his effort, and for some reason letting go of all that hate I had at the ready just made me feel empty. When it comes to anything that reminds me of Dartmouth or the white collar world that the Ivy League is supposed to feed, especially the finance, if I am robbed of the ability to feel hate, resentment, envy, or self-righteousness, I don’t know what or how to feel. I almost felt MORE angry at the guy for being nice and respectful and not giving me a reason to hate him, like he was fucking with me on some kind of meta-emotional level.
In the end, though, I’m happy for him and I wish the dude well if he continues comedy. In fact, I hope I see more of him around the scene. I hope I can become better friends with him, and maybe that will help me get over this huge hot brick of resentment I carry in my heart for my negative college experiences and the white collar world, and I can just treat people like people, because he deserves that much in kind.
You know what? Every time I think other people are bad people, I realize I am even worse.